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A Relaxed Dinner of Fall Flavors

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Earthy favorites with a twist: bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin, endive with pears & walnuts, and celery & apple purée

I’m convinced that for me, entertaining at home is long on fun and short on stress because when I plan the menu I focus on simple dishes that can be prepared in advance, but are elevated to invite-your-friends special with unexpected twists. For instance, filet of beef is a real crowd pleaser that takes well to earthy flavors, so I added wild mushrooms and, for a tangy accent, cider and cider vinegar. Celery root purée is an earthy and delicious alternative to mashed potatoes on the side. And because beef filet is rich, I chose a salad that was light yet had some savory touches: blue cheese and crunchy spiced walnuts. For dessert, individual butterscotch custards, which are made ahead, are perfect because I find that once you sit down to dinner, you want to stay with your guests.

Menu Timeline

Two days ahead

  • Order the filet of beef.
  • Buy the pears and blue cheese; let them ripen.
  • Find sources for less common ingredients (sherry vinegar, wild mushrooms, celery root).

The day before

  • Make the custards.
  • Make the spice-candied nuts.
  • Make the salad dressing.
  • Make the sauce for the filet.

That morning

  • Wrap the filet in bacon and tie it.
  • Wash and dry the greens.
  • Slice the cheese.

Two hours before serving

  • Make the purée; keep warm over a water bath.
  • Whip the cream for the custards; keep chilled in a cheesecloth-lined strainer over a bowl.
  • Heat the oven.

One hour before

  • Roast the filet.

Just before serving

  • Reheat the sauce gently as the filet rests.
  • Assemble the salads.

Shopping List

Fresh Produce

  • 2 large celery roots (about 4 lb. total)
  • 1 small head frisée or curly endive (curly chicory)
  • 1 small head Bibb or Boston lettuce
  • 2 large heads Belgian endive or 2 small bunches watercress
  • 2 ripe Bartlett or Anjou pears
  • 1 apple (preferably Winesap, Granny Smith or Braeburn)
  • 3 medium shallots
  • 3 oz. cremini mushrooms
  • 3 oz. shiitake mushrooms
  • 3 oz. oyster mushrooms
  • 4 large sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 8 sprigs fresh mint
  • 1 lemon

Meat, Eggs & Dairy

  • 3-1/2- to 4-lb. whole beef tenderloin
  • 4 to 6 oz. apple-smoked bacon, sliced medium thick
  • 1 dozen large eggs
  • 1-1/2 pints heavy cream
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 lb. Gorgonzola or Roquefort

Other Groceries

  • 3-1/2 oz. walnut halves
  • 1-1/2 cups low-salt canned beef broth
  • 3/4 cup dry red wine
  • 3/4 cup apple cider
  • 1/4 cup Scotch whisky
  • 1 whole nutmeg

Pantry Staples

  • 1-1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbs. cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. sherry vinegar
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. ground star anise or anise seed
  • Kosher salt
  • Black peppercorns

Drink Suggestions- This delicious and uncomplicated menu calls for wines along the same theme. To get the meal off to just the right start, try a light, crisp sparkling wine; it’s a great apéritif and can segue right into the first-course salad. The nonvintage Domaine J. Laurens Blancs de Blancs Brut ($12) from southwestern France, or the nonvintage Roederer Estate Brut ($18) from California’s Anderson Valley in Mendocino are two good choices. The baconwrapped filet with wild mushroom sauce calls for a red with depth, concentrated fruit, and soft, polished tannins. I like the 2000 Penfolds Thomas Hylands Shiraz from Australia ($15) and the 1998 Errazuriz Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($25) from Chile. The butterscotch pudding includes a touch of Scotch whisky, and while the intense flavors and the alcohol in spirits can prove to be-a challenge when choosing a dessert wine, it needn’t stop you from sipping a little something alongside if you want. A wee dram-of Drambuie ($45), a heather-honey–based liqueur with a-touch of Scottish malt whisky, would be a great partner for this rich-and tasty dessert. Tim Gaiser, a master sommelier, is a contributing editor to Fine-Cooking. He lives in San Francisco.

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